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Championship Teams Mirror Their Captain

Sam Walker, a Wall Street Journal Deputy Editor and author, spent 11 years researching the greatest teams of all time, and, in an article on the USA Today High School Sports website, he shared his observations about what great teams have in common—and he did it by analyzing the team captains of the championship teams because captains set the tone for a team.

Here are the qualities that Walker found were consistent with the captains of those championship teams—and therefore were qualities of their team overall.

Extreme doggedness

Walker mentioned that the common thread with legendary teams is that the captains were not usually superstar athletes, but they showed superstar effort.

Practical communication

The article states: "Most people expect leaders to give rousing speeches, but the most capable captains did not do that. A lot of them actually avoided it, focusing on practical communication instead. In the context of the team and during games, they talked constantly and circulated widely among the team."

Testing the limits

Walker noted that some of the best captains had a reputation for being dirty players, but that reputation was unwarranted.  The captains were not playing to hurt people, but trying to push the boundaries for the team’s sake. And the captains didn’t care about the reputation that was forming—they just wanted to win.

Emotional control

Walker used captain Henri Richard of the Montreal Canadiens as example because of issues with his temper. Richard was a terrific scorer but also one of the most penalized players in the league. A a new coach was hired for the Canadiens who worked to get Richard to direct his anger on the puck. Not only did his penalty minutes decrease, but also he also combined his goal-scoring skills with getting his teammates involved. The Canadiens started winning championships when Richard began to control his emotions.

Being an intermediary

Most of the coaches Walker studied for his book began leading the legendary team without a championship pedigree—and some took over their team in the midst of their winning streaks. Instead, Walker observed, "Successful coaches usually had a great partnership with the team captain. They relied on the captain to enforce the team’s goals, even if the captain sometimes went off-script. The best captains are usually intermediaries between management and other players. They were essentially middle managers, arbitrating between the two sides."

A many people equate being a team leader to being one of the players with the greatest skills. But Walker believes the best leaders are not necessarily the best players. "They’re not the most talented or charismatic people," the article states. "They are very functional, they carry water and communicate constantly with the team." Basically, they do everything and anything that's necessary to win.  Their teammates feed off this, and the end result is a string of championships.

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